Toronto Mayor Rob Ford diagnosed with rare cancer

September 17, 2014

The tumour in Rob Ford’s abdomen, the discovery of which led the mayor of Toronto to drop out of the election last week, is both malignant and rare, according to medical authorities.

Dr. Zane Cohen of Mount Sinai Hospital’s surgical team addressed the media today to provide an update on Ford’s medical condition, which, he noted, was done due to great public interest.

He said a repeat biopsy was done Monday on “the mass,” meaning the abdominal tumour.

“The diagnosis is a malignant liposarcoma,” said Cohen, which is a form of cancer that arises in fat cells in deep soft tissue; it is, Cohen said, a rare and difficult tumour to treat.

“It has about 60 different cell types and that’s what makes it a very rare tumour and a very difficult tumour,” he said.

“We have not found cancer” in Ford’s organs, Cohen noted, later adding that the tumour appears “very aggressive” based on its size after its recent discovery and that it has been growing since well before that, but Cohen added that the treatment plan is also aggressive, involving an initial three-day chemotherapy treatment and subsequent 40-day cycles over the treatment plan, which he said is to begin within the next 48 hours.

“Everyone knows chemotherapy is tough …  he [Ford] is a pretty strong person, but he’s going to have some tough days,” said Cohen, an internationally recognized colorectal surgeon. He added that Ford will also have some good days, and that “doctors will decide what the next step will be based on how the tumour responds to treatment.”

The Ford family, along with everyone following the Toronto mayoral election and the general Ford saga, had been awaiting the results of last week’s biopsy.


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The nature of the “fair-sized” tumour — about 12 cm by 12 cm, according to Cohen on Wednesday — and specifically whether it is cancerous, became the subject of much speculation and curiosity leading up to today’s medical announcement.

Members of the family, including the mayor’s wife, Renata, his brother Randy and his nephew Mike attended the hospital ahead of the announcement, but did not speak with the media.

“Our family’s strong, Rob’s strong and with all the support of the people, that’s what keeps us going,”said his brother, Coun. Doug Ford on Tuesday.

Following the diagnosis Wednesday, Doug Ford issued a brief statement:

“Rob will beat this,” said Doug Ford, as reported in Metro News and in the Toronto Star.

“He is an incredible person, husband, father, brother and son and he remains upbeat and determined to fight this.”

“Rob has always been so strong for all of us and now I ask us all to be strong for him.”

On Friday, Doug Ford announced his candidacy for mayor, and that he was replacing his brother on the ballot for mayor; Ford is now running for city council in Ward 2, a position he held for 10 years before he was elected mayor in 2010.

That switch, withdrawing Rob’s name off the ballot for mayor and adding Doug’s (and the switch to a councillor nomination for Rob) took place on the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 12, at the last possible moment before the city’s election registration closed, leading to great speculation on what may have happened or may be happening behind the scenes in the Ford campaign.

Mayoral opponents John Tory and Olivia Chow, now considered the main competition for Doug Ford, who has yet to start his mayoral campaign in earnest, responded to the news on Wednesday with supportive messages wishing Ford a successful recovery.

Chow’s message, coming from a politician and public figure whose late husband, former federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, passed away from cancer in 2011, carries a special resonance in this moment.

My hopes are with @TOMayorFord, Renata and family. Cancer can be beaten and I know how important support is. He has mine.

— Olivia Chow (@oliviachow) September 17, 2014

Ford was admitted to hospital last Wednesday with an abdominal tumour, which doctors found in a CT scan conducted around the same time as the biopsy. Ford had been complaining of abdominal pains earlier in the day, said Doug Ford. He was first admitted to Humber River Hospital, but on Thursday was transferred to Mount Sinai for further testing and treatment.

Ford’s father, Doug Ford Sr., a former provincial politician in Ontario, passed away three months after he was diagnosed in 2006 with colorectal cancer.

According to Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington, a member of the media who seems to have unique, direct access to the Fords, the mayor had a second biopsy on his lungs on Monday. However, Cohen clarified Wednesday that Ford does not have a tumour in his lung, rather that the tumour has spread to his buttock.

Warmington, who spoke with Ford on the phone Monday, said that Ford is in “rough shape” in his column, and in an interview with Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010 that day.

Scandals surrounding alleged drug use, as well as a number of the mayor’s controversial words, actions and interactions around Toronto, have made Ford a politician with international name recognition. Ford initially denied the existence of the original alleged “crack video” reported in 2013, which purportedly shows Ford smoking crack cocaine and which it was reported some people were trying to sell, as well as the allegations of drug use.

In October of 2013, when Toronto police said they had seen the video, or at least images consistent with the reports, Ford admitted within a week that he had tried crack, saying it was in one of his “drunken stupors.”

That scandal made international headlines, along with stories of Ford’s odd behaviours, like the recording of Ford speaking in a Jamacain patois at Steak Queen restaurant in his Etobicoke neighbourhood.

But it was not until photos emerged from the first alleged video, along with reports of a second video, that Ford took a leave of absence to attend a rehab program. He spent a month at the GreeneStone addiction treatment facility in Ontario’s Muskoka region before returning to work in late June.

As the CBC reports: “Ford has also been at the centre of other controversies, including a conflict-of-interest challenge that nearly cost him his job and a defamation lawsuit that was dismissed in court.”

Rob Ford was previously hospitalized in 2009 for appendicitis, which he had removed. He has been in hospital twice this year, once with a reported injury on his toe, and the second time at GreeneStone, for his rehab program.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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